Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Lie--You Should "Do Better" than Your Parents

This is one of my "pet lies". I have a hard time not subscribing to this one myself, probably because I am very competitive. Many people, across all generations, believe this lie. It basically says that, because your parents accomplished this certain level of success, you should accomplish a higher level. Parents perpetuate the lie when they say things like "I just want better for you than I had." On the surface, this seems logical and seems like a noble goal. The problem in this lie stems from the common perception of "success" and what exactly it means to "do better."

First, know that I applaud parents for providing for their kids and I believe it is the parents' responsibility to provide opportunities and to give the kids a chance to accomplish great things. Thats not at all what this is about. I also believe that kids should strive to be the best they can be at everything they endeavor--sports, education, music, whatever. Again, thats not what this is about. I also believe that children should learn from their parents' mistakes. As the generations accumulate wisdom, children should be smarter, more wise and less mistake prone (theoretically). By that definition, kids COULD do better than their parents (though, most of those "life mistakes" have to actually be lived to be learned). I am focusing on the drive that many people feel starting in their early 20s. The want, and even need in some, to be at the same place their parents are currently. The inner push to have a higher salary, bigger house, nicer car, etc.

Where does this come from? I would say it starts with the parents themselves. As they raise the children they say things like, "I don't want you to struggle" and "You should do better than I did." Both are seemingly innocuous statements but, without proper explanation, they can be misguiding. Most parents mean that they don't want their kids to have to deal with the hard times. Parents forget, however, that the hard times make them appreciate the good times and the hard times build the character necessary to face future hard times. They also forget the simplicity that exists in the hard times (my life was so much simpler when I had 3 sticks of furniture, a rented apartment and a whole lotta love for my wife).

The next source of this problem is our own tendency to become acclimated to a certain lifestyle. Stick with me on this. If I am raised in a certain lifestyle, I get used to it. When I try to strike out on my own, it will be difficult to dial down my lifestyle. Parents need to do a better job of allowing their kids to see, touch, and feel a lesser lifestyle sometimes. Don't give them everything under the sun. Make them earn things. Make them make choices and sacrifices. Make them understand the concept of tradeoffs. Also, reassure them that it is ok to be in want sometimes. Its ok to live on lower means. Tell them the stories of how good for you it was to struggle with money.

So, whats the real problem with this lie? I think this lie is one of the MAIN causes for our growing dependence on debt. 18, 19, 20 year old kids are getting in tremendous debt as they feel they are entitled to nice cars, nice possessions and the same lifestyle their 50 year old parents have. These kids feel the pressure to live up to their parents, forgetting that their parents have 30 years on them building their wealth. This lie has contributed to the housing bust. You had first time home buyers completely exhausting their home buying power as they felt they should buy the biggest, nicest home they could possibly afford (instead of buying a true "starter home"). This lie contributes to students going thousands and thousands of dollars in debt to their schools as they feel this is the only way to get the education that will get them the job that will give them the salary higher than their parents. Another problem is that all to often this becomes an obsession for people. Parents obsess over their kids accomplishments. They push and push and push until the kid breaks. Kids obsess as well. When the parents push too hard, the kids feel the pressure. This can lead to all sorts of issues.

Whats the alternative? Should parents make their kids poor on purpose just to build character? Should parents discourage their kids from doing their best? Of course not. The answer is in the mindset. Number one, parents should let the kids know that sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down but, first, God never leaves and, second, you can always find contentment. Then, the parents should teach that contentment is not complacency. Just because I am content, I don't quit improving myself. Then the parents can teach kids to delay pleasure and the idea behind the tortoise and the hare. Its ok, even preferable, to build wealth slowly, methodically and incrementally. I believe God treats us the same way. He entrusts us with a little, then adds more as we prove our worth. Bottom line is this, be careful what message you give your kids about material things. Teach them contentment and allow them to learn how to build slowly.

Finally, help them define "success". Success is not measured in salary or stuff. It is measured in your ability and willingness to serve God. I know several that make half as much money as I do but I would call them more successful because they serve God with all they have. I am still trying to learn this lesson. It is HARD to reprogram myself in this regard. Hard, but worth it.

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